Pot of money for South O left in limbo following change to Nebraska ‘turnback tax’ process

By: - January 2, 2023 4:30 am

South Omaha historical business district along South 24th Street (Cindy Gonzalez/Nebraska Examiner)

OMAHA — About $35,000 intended for South Omaha startups is in a limbo of sorts since no entrepreneurs sought the funds available as a result of a change in Nebraska’s “turnback tax” rules.

“Nobody applied for that part of the funding,” said Douglas County Commissioner Roger Garcia, a committee member who helps select South Omaha’s turnback tax grant recipients. “It’s possible not enough people are aware there is that category.”

Garcia said his hope is that the application process will be reopened or that the funds will roll over to next year’s distribution.

He said the committee is waiting on a legal opinion from the City of Omaha Law Department on how to  proceed.

Law amended

The unassigned funds sit in the wake of amendments that state lawmakers approved last year to the Nebraska Convention Center Facility Financing Assistance Act.

The act calls for much of state sales tax revenue collected by hotels and retailers within a certain distance of a convention center to be “turned back” to political subdivisions to pay off debt for the facilities.

The act also provides that 10% of the turnback funds received by the City of Omaha be distributed to areas of high poverty. In the past, Garcia said, those funds went to projects aimed at preventing youth violence or that showcased historical aspects of North and South Omaha.

A change to the act now specifies that 45% of the turnback tax funds headed to North and South Omaha go to assist small business and entrepreneurship growth. The remaining 55% is to be allocated to traditional violence reduction or historical applications.

North and South see different results

On Friday, a committee that selects grant recipients in North Omaha announced 16 groups, businesses or agencies that will share $87,626 in 2022-23 turnback tax grants.

A separate committee for South Omaha announced its winners a few weeks earlier. That lineup, according to a media statement, is to share a pot of $42,350.

When asked about the disparate amounts awarded in North and South Omaha, Garcia explained that South Omaha lacked applicants for the small business category. So, he said, 45% of the turnback tax funds that were to be allocated for that entrepreneurial purpose could not be disbursed, and essentially were put on ice. 

Garcia said announcements seeking applicants for turnback grants included information on the rule change.

He suspects there may have been more conversation in North Omaha about the entrepreneurial allotment, given that the statutory change was championed by State Sen. Terrell McKinney, who also is on the North Omaha turnback tax committee.

McKinney publicized at least one North Omaha community meeting to discuss the change and overall process.

In addition to McKinney, the North Omaha selection committee includes Douglas County Commissioner Chris Rodgers, Omaha City Councilwoman Juanita Johnson and community leaders Ernest White and Rodney Johnson.

In addition to Garcia, South Omaha committee members include State Sen. Tony Vargas (nonvoting member), City Councilman Vinny Palermo and community leaders Sarah Dragon and Victor Baez.

Overall, Rodgers noted, that Omaha turnback tax grants amounted to far less than typical due to a COVID-19-related drop in business and therefore tax revenue.

Food trucks, mentoring and more

In North Omaha, the committee received more than 60 applications, with grants going to such efforts as food truck businesses, mentorship programs and an assisted living home for female minority veterans. North Omaha awards announced Friday go to:

  • BeAmbi & Co., $4,000 for equipment, marketing and staff for “community passion projects for aspiring creatives.”
  • Busy Vegan, $6,500 to support the purchase of a food truck.
  • Great Plains Black History Museum, $4,000 for community exhibits and presentations.
  • Heavy Hitters Youth Program, $5,000 to “More than Playing Football” program.
  • Island Chill, $4,000 to expand mobile food service.
  • MAYS (Metro Area Youth Services) Foundation, $5,000 to “Hood to the Woods” outdoor trip for gang-involved youth.
  • National Community of the Disadvantaged Enrichment, $6,500 for Project Reconnect.
  • North Omaha Community Partnership, $5,000 for training challenged youths and re-entry young adults.
  • Omaha Skills Connection, $5,626 for career development opportunities.
  • Parker Youth Inc., $5,000 for “Another Option” wrestling, mentoring and counseling program.
  • Stable Gray, $6,500 to support “Access Camera Rental.”
  • The Keys Foundation, $5,000 to “Confidently Me!’ mentorship program.
  • Trauma House of Hope, $6,000 for family and youth trauma therapy.
  • U.N.T.A.M.E.D. LLC, $6,500 for T-shirt printing and podcast equipment.
  • Vasser Academy LLC, $6,500 to support in-home child care.
  • Victory Psalms LLC, $6,500 for assisted living home for female minority veterans.


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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics.